Last year, as a global outdoor lifestyle brand, Timberland launched a five year commitment to double its footprint in five cities – just not in the way you might expect. In each city, we will create or restore urban green spaces that match or exceed the combined retail footprint of our local stores in that city.
Why would a global footwear and apparel company decide to roll up its sleeves and dig in the dirt down the block? At Timberland, we like to pull on our boots and make a difference. We’re a company of Earthkeepers and we strive to create responsible products, protect the outdoors, and serve communities where we live, work, and explore. We are also an outdoor lifestyle brand that aims to meet the needs of our consumers.
These days, our consumers mostly live in cities and their notion of the outdoors has shifted. No longer does the outdoors only mean getting out of the city to hike a trail or a mountain. Today, the outdoors can be as simple as stepping outside, into the open air and elements, and exploring where you are in the moment.
Getting Our Hands Dirty
For years, Timberland has worked to protect the outdoors through our global tree planting efforts most notably in Haiti, China, and the Dominican Republic. While our U.S. consumers appreciated our efforts, we heard from them that they wanted us to do something closer to home.
Meanwhile, Timberland was in the midst of a process to re-evaluate how we support our communities worldwide. Since 1992, Timberland’s Path of Service™ employee volunteer program has offered employees paid time to serve in their communities. Full-time employees receive up to 40 paid community service hours each year and those hours add up. In 2014, we served our one millionth service hour and we’re still counting as we enter the 25th year of Path of Service. To help employees use those hours, we have two global service days each year, Earth Day in the spring and our signature Serv-a-palooza event in the fall. On these two days each year, most of our employees worldwide get out of the office and serve.
While we were doing a lot of meaningful work in our local communities, our combined efforts weren’t moving the needle on any one issue. After holding regional workshops to explore the relevant ways we could invest Timberland’s time, talents, and resources into an issue that would speak to the essence of our brand and resonate with employees and consumers worldwide, we landed on urban greening.
Why Green Spaces Matter
As more of the world’s population migrates to cities their access to nature shrinks. An increasing number of studies indicate that access to trees and green spaces positively impacts our wellbeing. “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, links the increase in childhood obesity, attention disorders and depression to a lack of nature. Children, however, are not the only ones at risk. The Japanese practice of forest bathing (shinrin-yoki), which gets people in the presence of trees, has been part of a national health program since 1982 and has been found to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress, boost immunity and increase feelings of overall wellbeing.
Green spaces in underserved urban communities can not only create places where people can grow their own food, but they can also strengthen the community and increase community stability. They have the potential to develop community leaders as locals step up and get organized to protect and maintain their green space. Green spaces can also improve safety in communities as people living near them spend time in the space, get to know each other and start looking out for one another.
The benefits of urban greening resonated deeply with Timberland’s roots in the outdoors and with our consumers. This has become a focus for the brand’s community strategy worldwide. We launched our U.S. urban greening efforts last June when 100 volunteers helped GrowNYC restore a community garden in the Mott Haven community of the Bronx. This year, we’re excited to head to Philadelphia to make an equally impactful transformation of an urban space.
Across the Atlantic, Timberland Europe has launched My PlayGreen, a five-year grant program that will support the access to trees and green spaces for children and teenagers in five of Europe's largest cities. In March, 14 grants were distributed to support non-profit urban greening projects in London, Milan, Berlin, Paris and Barcelona.
Many things change over time and the human relationship to nature is no exception. Through Timberland’s urban greening work worldwide, we aim to bring a touch of the outdoors to the cities where we live, work and explore to increase access to the significant health, wellbeing and community benefits green spaces have to offer.
We encourage you to find opportunities to connect with nature in your community, whether it’s volunteering with a local NGO, joining us on one of our projects or simply going for a walk through your neighborhood. It all starts with stepping outside!